Three rounds of action was not enough for UFC Welterweights Jon Fitch (23-3-1 and 1 NC) and BJ Penn (16-7-2) to decide who would be next in line for a title shot as they battled to a majority draw. One judge scored the fight 29-28 in Fitch’s favor while the other two scored it 28-28. Even though the fight was exciting, the result left the fans “down under” disappointed and booing.
Throughout the fight, what took most by surprise was Penn’s ability to take Jon Fitch down and outwrestle the wrestler. It was a mixture of his takedowns, striking and dominant positions that won BJ Penn the first two rounds. Fitch’s corner informed him he needed to “go for broke” in the third round. Fitch went back to his bread and butter and Penn was on his back within fifteen seconds. Penn looked stuck there, suffering a barrage of endless short elbows and punches and almost fell victim to a head-arm triangle. Fitch grinded out an impressively dominant round that earned him a 10-8 score on two of the judges’ scorecards and so secured the majority draw.
It was the second main event in as many months to end in a draw, following January’s inconclusive fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard for the World Lightweight Title. However whereas there was considerable doubt after that fight as to whether the instant rematch would be made, there was an immediate consensus that that Penn vs. Fitch II is in both fighters’ imminent futures. However whereas the need to rematch Edgar and Maynard caused disarray in the UFC lightweight division, this sequel could make Dana White’s life a lot easier.
At the moment the future of the welterweight championship is in doubt in a way it hasn’t been since then champion Matt Serra was injured in the build up to his defense against Matt Hughes in 2006. Dana White has stated that if Georges St. Pierre successfully defends his title against Jake Shields at UFC 129, then he will vacate his title and move up to middleweight to pursue a fight against Anderson Silva. Should this happen then the UFC will have to hold a fight-off for a vacant belt for the first time since stripping lightweight champion Sean Sherk of his title in 2007 after he failed a drugs test.
Finding a matchup that would be credible in this scenario seemed a daunting task with virtually all the top contenders in the division having struggled to re-establish themselves after losing decisively to Georges St. Pierre. Matters were made worse for the UFC when the match between the two contenders that hadn’t lost to the champion was cancelled when Carlos Condit withdrew due to injury. The man he was meant to face Chris Lytle would then somehow manage to lose to the heavy underdog Brian Ebersole. Before Condit and Lytle’s misfortunes it seemed possible that in the event of St. Pierre vacating to retroactively construct an unofficial tournament for the title, with the winners of UFC 127’s welterweight matches meeting in the championship match. With Condit-Lytle off the table that option was blocked off.
But the drawn contest between Fitch and Penn opens up another one. The UFC can now book the instant rematch and should St. Pierre defeat Shields upgrade it from final eliminator to title fight. It’s a matchup that simply makes sense as the one to crown St. Pierre’s replacement. Fitch is on paper the second best fighter in the division while Penn is a former champion and is coming off two really impressive performances at the weight. Such a plan does however leave the UFC without a plausible contender should Jake Shields shock the world on April 30th but that may be a risk the UFC has to take to best capitalise on its latest piece of good fortune.
Tags: B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Jake Shields, jon fitch, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 127, UFC 129, UFC Welterweight division